Spring Science Fiction Week Story 5: The Drug

I wanted to provide an absolutely brand new, shiny piece of science fiction this week for a finale, and so I have spent my day telling a story about the biggest drug a lot of men take.

I should note, that while there is a lot of discussion in this story of failing relationships, the border between love and hate, and the problems with marriage, they are mostly drawn from observation of other people’s problems. My own marriage is still a strong beautiful thing, and I believe it will be well after tie travel really does make us all immortal: some things are made for forever.

Of course, being a new piece, it may be raw and in desperate need of modification later on. Enjoy!

The Drug

The candlelight trapped and reflected in sweat looked like gold dust on Nicole’s full, tanned breasts. Eric stopped for a moment, panting and trembling to admire it, get lost in the golden light… so perfect. This moment was always so perfect. Then her long artist’s fingers pulled at his hair and she guided him down to her right nipple. He took it in his teeth and teased her until she gasped an pushed his head away again.

His eyes travelled up her glittering body to her smiling, ice-blue eyes, a tangle of wet brass-coloured hair plastered to her face between them. It was that smile, that perfect moment: the smile full of laughter, the way she bit her lower lip and still showed a mouth full of white teeth. The moment of invitation, the tiny nod, the moan, the squirm, the feel of his long, sensitive fingers wiping the hair from his face… that was why he kept coming back to this moment. To feel perfect, beautiful love with his fingertips.

He pressed himself into her to the sound of a delighted squeak, and then they began the long, slow beautiful dance of coitus…

Eric woke up on his recliner with Nicole’s perfume still in his nose. His own smile was so wide it hurt his face, but it wouldn’t go away until he looked at his watch, so he waited for a few minutes, feeling his face ache and his painful erection wilt, before he lifted his arm and looked down.

His artificial hand was too smooth and flawless, like the alabaster hand of a doll, and always numb; he always mourned the loss of those fingers that had pushed the hair from her face and felt the hot wetness of her sweat. The date and time shimmered across the back of his hand, and he was back safely in the rotten present. Slowly, stiffly, he got up out of the recliner, adjusting to the cool damp patch in his shorts. The first wave of nausea hit him just as he got vertical. JK-270 attacked the digestion like no other drug, crams, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dehydration… after years of taking the time travel drug he still hadn’t adapted to the side effects. He waited for the worst of it to pass before he staggered into the darkened kitchen.

It was a cold night for New Mexico; the tiles were like ice under his feet; he was grateful for the cool, it helped him fight the sickness. He lit his fingertips to help him find his way to the fridge, the kinesthetic sense could be scrambled for hours after a time trip, and he’d never been very good at moving around in the dark. The light was like a dagger in the eye when he opened it up and retrieved the bottle of Milk of Magnesia he kept in there. He chugged the cold antacid as fast as he could, and then threw himself over the sink as his stomach rebelled; fresh cold sweat and constricted lungs. He fought down a surge of bile.

When the light came on, he jerked in pain. Trying to shield his eyes, Eric lost his balance and dropped to his knees, cracking his chin against the counter.

“Christ, it’s like living with a junkie,” Nicole’s voice was bitter and hard.

She sat at the table in a silk robe she hadn’t bothered to tie shut. Her body was different now, not the soft, full golden one he’ been tangled with a moment an a decade ago. Her skin, like his hand was perfectly smooth, perfectly hairless, luminous like porcelain; she hadn’t needed to sweat in years. Her stomach, once soft was now concave, like a model from his childhood memories of the nineties; underfed. Her breasts, now were strangely perky; too full for her scrawny body they stood out, firm and pear-shaped from her chest. Her face was a hard, crystalline imitation of the woman from their past, twisted into a combination of scorn and disgust.

She doesn’t even feel the cold, he noted.

In front of her on the table was her own fix, a pair of pills and a glass of water.

“You should talk,” he said, pulling himself off the floor, spitting a bloody tooth fragment into the brushed metal sink. “What will those ones do to you?”

“As if you even cared anymore.”

“Fine, don’t tell me then,” Eric hunted down the brocite tabs in the cupboard to mix himself another bottle of the Milk. He bit his cheek to keep his mouth shut. She was down here to punish him and they both knew it.

“This one will attach nanobots to my hair follicles; I’ll be able to change its growth and colour. I’m tired of being blonde. Maybe I’ll try a new colour every day for a week or two. I’ll have to shave my head before coming to bed.

“This one is a firmware update for my tits,” she said, “I’ll be able to adjust the shape faster.” The smile she had on her face was hard and cruel. He was sure she could feel his skin crawl.

“This is a sickness, Nicole,” he said, “You ought to see a therapist.”

“I’m just trying to stay young, and attractive. You should consider getting a few traits yourself, maybe something to let you tighten up your middle, to keep your ass from getting soft.”

She waited for a moment, watching the emotions tear across his face, fighting with the nausea.

“It’s not the only thing the traits could keep from going soft.”

When it became clear that he had nothing to say, she popped the two pills and chugged down the glass of water.

“Christ,” he muttered.

When she was done, she got up and pulled her robe shut.

“Where do you go when you take that garbage? Back to old girlfriends? Your childhood? Jesus, Eric, why don’t you go back and change something useful rather than this tourist shit you’re obviously doing? Every time you take the goddamn things you come back and nothing’s different, and you haven’t pulled any miraculous investment tips out of the future.”

“You know I can’t change anything that matters.”

She growled out her frustration and stormed out of the room.

“I won’t bother to wait for you to come to bed.”

Eric slumped to the kitchen floor, no longer feeling sick, just terribly sad and empty.

Their living room sofa-bed was always made, and always ready for him, assuming he made it that far.

Nicole was already gone by the time he woke up the next morning. Marty sat and played quietly in the living room waiting for him to get up, as much as Marty could ever be said to play. Often he would sit and stare at a toy, running a finger delicately over the details, or he’d move one joint slowly back and forth, watching the action of the parts with fascination. Marty preferred older toys, complicated ones of moulded plastic: Transformers, Lego, Sentinels… he had an aversion to liquid plastic and electronics.

Marty had Nicole’s curls, and her icy eyes. His chin was bore a strong resemblance to his Eric’s, but twisted, as everything about him was. His face was contorted into a homunculus of a boy’s face, oversized lips and nose, bulging eyes under a sloping forehead and receding chin. His ears curled inward, creating conical points. His hands were large and very adult-looking, long fingered musician’s hands attached to thin spindly limbs. Eric often thought he looked more like a faerie creature than a boy, he had a hazy, absent presence, as if he were always remembering, never experiencing.

Their pediatricians had assumed he was autistic at first, or had a neurological birth defect that mimicked autism; it wasn’t until 2014, when they had legalized cross-time medical examinations that they finally diagnosed Marty as being born with Remke’s Disorder, a range of birth defects related to time travel drugs during conception and pregnancy; even though Marty had been born before time travel had been available outside of the lab, either parent might have ingested time travel medication and become a past self, leaving traces of the drug to affect conception before he was born. Worse yet, if they refused to use time travel drugs to visit the time around his conception, he probably would not be born at all; it was Remke’s Disorder or nonexistence.

The physical defects were believed to be evolutionary; mimicry of a future shape of humanity, but it was the mental effects that were hardest on most Remke’s parents. Marty and children like him had JK-270 or some similar drug in their brain tissue from birth. They were born with memories of possible selves from years in the future, and as they grew would often visit pasts real and possible all at once. He was rarely focused on the present. He had always been, on some levels, mentally and adult, and on other levels would always be a child.

Eric watched as his son of eleven admire the toy with a craftsman’s eye, and as a puzzle.

“What will you be when you grow up Marty?” he asked. This was a father-son game between them.

“Today I will be an engineer when I grow up. Would you like me to upgrade your car?” he smiled a mischievous smile.

“Will you engineer cars then?”

“No. Robots. But by then the difference between a car and a robot will be kinda blurry.”

“It already is.”

“Actually, I’ll be a chef in a big fancy restaurant where movie stars and presidents eat,” Marty said. “I already made your coffee and bacon and eggs. Maybe I’ll finish up with crème brulée. Mom went out to the office early today, she told me to make you breakfast so you could get me to school on time.”

“Crème brulée is a little too rich for me, I’ll damage my arteries enough with the bacon this morning, thanks.”

“Maybe I’ll decide to be a doctor once I’ve made the drink; then I can clear you out with my fancy nanoprobes.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Eric said as he sat down in the wreckage of a kitchen post-Martin; he could bake dishes from memory his parents had never even shown him, but he still had a boy’s ability to turn any room into a disaster, and a boy’s aversion to cleaning up after himself.

Marty poured two cups of coffee and passed one to his father. Eric watched with amused interest as the boy sipped the brew and made a face.

“Ugh! I guess I better wait ’till my taste-buds change.” The boy contented himself with fidgeting with the mug while his father ate.

“You and mom had another fight last night.”

“You were awake for that?”

“No, but Mom never leaves early unless she’s mad.”

“I’m sorry, buddy. This has to be really rough on you,” Eric said. “I want you to know that…”

“I know it’s not really about me, Dad. You and Mom both love me, and you want us to be a family. I am dealing with it.”

“I wish I knew what to do to make it easier,” Eric said.  “Or even what I want out of all of this.”

“It is hard for a man to know what to do when he feels emasculated,” Marty tried another sip of his coffee and made another horrid face.

“It creeps me out when you use words like that, especially when you use them correctly.”

“Sorry, Dad.”

“Maybe you’ll be an analyst when you grow up,” Eric said.

“Maybe.”

Eric worked at the Rukhbari Embassy. Alien races had arrived in numbers in 2012, they were enthusiastic for Earth goods and culture, and had been waiting in the wings for centuries for humanity to develop time travel, most with advanced fireworks for the new year or Christmas presents for world leaders. These aliens had proven to a race to be cheerful, friendly, full of questions, and keen to be allowed to visit Earth for vacation.

The Rukhbari were small, furry, and resembled the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, complete with 13 sets of hands and feet, crossed with a mouse. They had been collecting and rebroadcasting human television to their homeworld for fifty years, and had happily paid the equivalent of several billion dollars in (often posthumous) intellectual property rights once they had made contact. They had an obsessive fascination with the television program Fraggle Rock and board games.

Mostly, human attaches to the embassy were not diplomats; they were selected for being warehouses of useless trivia and degrees in media studies or social science. They were expected to sit around and chat with Rukhbari… mostly to answer questions, make documentaries comparing the two cultures, and chat about the weather, personal lives, and childhood memories to satisfy the Rukhbari’s endless curiosity. Occasionally they would make appointments for Rukhbari business-things to meet with industrialists or politicians to trade resources of technology.

It was no surprise when Eric found himself chatting with a Rukhbari semi-female coworker who went by the name of Sally about his family that afternoon over a game of Monopoly.

“Why does her body modification bother you so much?” the Sally asked through a tiny translation device.

“I wish I knew. Sometimes I think she does a lot of it to spite me. To make herself less into the woman I married. Sometimes I think she does it to make herself less of Martin’s mother. There are days when I suspect it is just her way of running away, but she modifies herself seven or eight times a week. Most of her modifications are ones that let her change herself over and over again.”

“You do not think she is trying to remain youthful and attractive like she said?”

“No. She said that to hurt me more.”

Sally wrinkled her nose at this, a sign of thought.

“You are still using all of the JK-270 I supplied you with to try and find a way to save your marriage?”

“Kind of. I guess I am using it to try and make up my mind about what I want… whether the marriage is worth saving. You’ve been married seventeen times, right? You must know what its like to be unsure of a relationship.”

The tiny Alien moved her piece around the board before clicking in frustration and forking over a number of brightly coloured bills to Eric.

“Have I asked too personal a question?” he asked.

“No… I am thinking about the answer. My first two wives, and first husbands, we had difficulties that left us wondering what the marriage was for. Offspring made it complicated, but not in the way Marty makes your marriage complicated… parenthood is different for species with large litters I think. But as we learned and time travel became more common, things changed for us, especially in regards to relationships.”

“I wasn’t aware you were around for your people’s development of time travel. How long have the Rukhbari had it?”

“The numbers are complicated, you know that.”

“Of course, but are you really a first-generation time-traveller?”

“Second. It usually only takes two or three generations for time travelling peoples to become immortal. And pacifists. I think humans will do it in one. Humans are very innovative.”

“And so what have you learned about relationships?”

“That there is no excuse to carry on one that is beyond hope of love or happiness.”

Eric stopped to think about this as he made his move and place a few hotels on the board.

Sally stopped and examined the dice slowly and thoughtfully, admiring their simple craftsmanship.

“What exactly are you doing with the JK-270, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I keep going back to the time when I felt the most loved; when Nicole and I were at out best together. The night Marty was conceived, we think. I just relive it the same way.”

“Why that time?”

“I like to remind myself what we were like at the best of times together, to help me understand what happened to us now, when we are so different. Maybe I’m reminding myself that I still love her to help me make the decision.”

“Love is a close thing to hate,” Sally said.

“I don’t know if I could ever hate her.”

Sally twitched her whiskers thoughtfully.

“Do you know why time travellers like the Rukhbari love board games and card games?”

“No, why?”

“They are the only sort of games a time travelling people cannot cheat at. There is too much relying on the dice. There are too many unknown factors. You cannot change where the dice go no matter how many times you come back and try. In fact, if you come back and use your knowledge of what the dice roll to make a different move, there is so much chaos involves that the die will not come up the way you remembered anyway.

“Most things in a time traveller’s life can be changed, if you are willing to take a risk and pay a price for the change. You may not know what that price is, however, and there is a terrible risk in trying to change that thing.

“Sometimes you know what the price will be, and then you either dare change it or you dare not. And if you dare not, then you have to learn that the thing you are unhappy with will always be the thing you are unhappy with. You have to accept that thing is and always will be a part of your present no matter how much you time travel. It takes a painful degree of clarity to be a time traveller.

“The dice are a relief from that. They are something that doesn’t take all that uncomfortable self-reflection and risk evaluation.”

The alien tossed the dice across the board and moved her piece.

“Are you saying I need to decide whether I love or hate Nicole and deal with it?”

The Alien shook her head in a deliberately human gesture.

“You will need more pills she said.”

When he got home, the first thing Eric did was head into his den to add the fresh pills Sally gave him to the old coffee can where he kept his supply. When he opened the can he found all of his stash had disappeared. He irritably headed to his bedroom to change his clothes to find Nicole was already home early, sprawled across the bed in her robe.

“I hid all of your goddamn 270,” she said.

“Why?”

She sat up with an angry look on her plastic face. She sat up defiantly on the bed and thrust her chest out at him.

“Why? Who the fuck cares why I do anything?”

Eric swallowed hard, looking at her as her robe slithered off of her shoulder, showing the shiny perfect skin. She was still so terribly beautiful. It would be harder to be angry if she’d just cover up.

“I care why you do almost everything,” he growled at her, “because every last goddamn thing you do seems to be aimed at fucking with my head.”

“Think highly of yourself, don’t you? Maybe I want them so I can visit an old boyfriend: someone who can keep it up for more than ten minutes and doesn’t need a fucking gilded invitation to think about making love to me, and a map to do it right!”

Eric found himself fighting with an arm that ached to reach out and slap her on its own. His jaw suddenly ached with the grinding of teeth and the fresh memory of last night’s accident. He also found his manhood suddenly swelling to the point of aching. If only he weren’t so goddamn angry he’d… but then, he had no idea what he’d do.

“Where?”

“Go look for them!” she snarled. “you’ll never find the goddamn things. I hope that shit has some kind of withdrawal.”

This was a game, he knew it, but he didn’t understand the rules. He hoped for a second a future self would jump in and help him play, but no one did. Frustrated, he turned and walked out the door.

“Bastard!” she screamed after him. He heard something shatter against the door as he closed it.

Wearily he made his way down to his den and retrieved a fresh pill from the coffee can…

…The candlelight trapped and reflected in sweat looked like gold dust on Nicole’s full, tanned breasts. Eric stopped for a moment, panting and trembling to admire it, get lost in the golden light… so perfect. This moment was always so perfect. Then her long artist’s fingers pulled at his hair and she guided him down to her right nipple. He took it in his teeth and teased her until she gasped an pushed his head away again.

His eyes travelled up her glittering body to her smiling, ice-blue eyes, a tangle of wet brass-coloured hair plastered to her face between them. It was that smile, that perfect moment: the smile full of laughter, the way she bit her lower lip and still showed a mouth full of white teeth. The moment of invitation, the tiny nod, the moan, the squirm, the feel of his long, sensitive fingers wiping the hair from his face… that was why he kept coming back to this moment.

He watched her for a moment, thinking of what it had been like for them after Marty came. They crying, the blaming, support groups, the news media. Nicole had swallowed a bottle of pills that had destroyed her liver in 2015, that’s when she started getting replacements, then later modifications and traits. They’d stopped making love regularly after that.

She had been planning on leaving him in 2017 before the accident when he lost his hand. He’ been planning on leaving her, too. They’d found so many reasons to stay together after that. None of them had been all that good.

And then beneath him Nicole squirmed and made a desperate whine, her smile fell a little, but the invitation in those eyes became all the more desperate. He pressed himself into her again, forgetting everything for a moment so he could make love with his beautiful young wife.

When he woke up, on the couch the next morning Marty was sitting in the corner of the living room quietly disassembling a toy with a jewellery screwdriver, holding each part up to a sunbeam and staring at them as if they were a strange and alien wonder.

“Good morning, Dad,” he said. “Mom went out to a Spa, and told me to tell you not to hold your breath for when she’s coming back.”

Eric nodded.

“Another fight last night?”

“A kid shouldn’t see his parents fight so much. I’m sorry about that, Eric.”

“I’m dealing with it. Mom hid your pills in one of my toys. I put them back in the coffee can.”

“I’m also sorry for keeping those around, you must feel pretty weird about them.”

The elfin boy shrugged.

“They are what they are.”

“Still, I don’t like them being rubbed in your face like that. I wish I know why she did something crazy like that.”

“She was testing you,” the boy said. His voice was eerily far away, and his eyes suddenly very blank. “Women do that, pick a fight to see if they are more important to you than work or things. Sometimes they need you to show them what they mean to you, and if you don’t do it yourself, they make you do it.”

Eric could feel his skin crawling again. He needed to change the subject.

“Hey, buddy, what do you want to be when you grow up.”

Marty refused to play that game, by the regular rules.

“A Lothario; would you like me to tell you what you should’ve done?”

“What should I have done?”

“If you still care about her, you should have made violent love to her. If you don’t care anymore, you should have shouted at her to let her know. She was hoping you might smack her, because if you don’t care anymore she wants to think you really are less than a man.”

Eric got the creeping feeling he was not talking to a child at all, but a familiar adult. A time traveller in a boy’s body.

“And what if I don’t know how I feel about her.”

“Then you need to make up your mind.”

“How does she feel about me?” he asked.

“She wants to hate you. But she needs you to make up your mind first; if you don’t hate her, she will have a hard time hating you, either way, she wants out the marriage. She’s just wants to know how to do it.”

“Is there anything I can do to save it, Marty?”

“No. She’s tired of waiting, too.”

“I’m so sorry,” Eric said to his son. “I wanted us to be a family, a kid shouldn’t have to go through this…”

“I was never a kid, Dad.”

Eric suddenly felt ill… and terrified.

“What is this thing to you?”

“A game I can cheat at.”

The candlelight trapped and reflected in sweat looked like gold dust on Nicole’s full, tanned breasts. Eric stopped for a moment, panting and trembling to admire it, get lost in the golden light… so perfect. This moment was always so perfect. Then her long artist’s fingers pulled at his hair and she guided him down to her right nipple. He took it in his teeth and teased her until she gasped an pushed his head away again.

His eyes travelled up her glittering body to her smiling, ice-blue eyes, a tangle of wet brass-coloured hair plastered to her face between them. It was that smile, that perfect moment: the smile full of laughter, the way she bit her lower lip and still showed a mouth full of white teeth. The moment of invitation, the tiny nod, the moan, the squirm, the feel of his long, sensitive fingers wiping the hair from his face… that was why he kept coming back to this moment. To feel perfect, beautiful love with his fingertips.

He pressed himself into her to the sound of a delighted squeak, and then they began the long, slow beautiful dance of coitus…

And when he had finally exhausted himself and sprawled his head across her soft damp chest she ran those finger through his hair again, and he felt that there was something different. He looked up into a sad, distant face, there was a tear running down her cheek.

He found himself wondering how many times she’d come back to this moment herself.

“Eric, I can’t wait any longer,” she said, “I want a divorce.”

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~ by Brian Rideout on 26/03/2010.

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